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HealthInfo Canterbury

High cholesterol

Te Matū Ngako Nui

This page has links to information in other languages.

Heart Foundation healthy heart graphicCholesterol is a type of fat called a lipid, which is made mainly in your liver. Your body needs it to function normally.

Having very high levels of cholesterol (called hyperlipidaemia) can make your blood vessels narrow, reducing blood flow and increasing your chance of getting a blood clot. This can lead to serious health problems, such as atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), heart attack, stroke, transient ischaemia attack (TIA) and peripheral vascular disease.

Heart risk assessments

High cholesterol is just one of the risk factors for heart attack and stroke.

Your GP or nurse can help you do a Heart risk assessment or you can do it yourself. A heart risk assessment gives an estimate of how likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke within the next five years. It takes into account your health and risk factors.

The age you should start having heart risk assessments depends on your sex, ethnicity and other risk factors. See Heart risk assessment for details.

Causes of high cholesterol

High cholesterol can be caused by being overweight, having an unhealthy diet, smoking, and diabetes. High cholesterol can also run in families, so some people inherit it.

We eat different types of fats, and they have different effects on our cholesterol levels. Eating a lot of unhealthy fat (fat on meat, chicken skin and full-fat dairy products, butter and takeaway foods) can lead to higher cholesterol.

Ways to reduce my cholesterol

Eating more healthy fats (vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish) can help to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

As well as watching what you eat, aiming for a healthy weight, keeping physically active, and reducing alcohol can help to improve your cholesterol levels. Along with these lifestyle changes, cholesterol-lowering medicines can be an effective way to help bring down your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

If you've been told you have high cholesterol and a higher risk of heart attack or stroke, you can create an action plan for heart health. The Heart Foundation booklet Lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke has an action plan that you can work through with your doctor or practice nurse. It will help you work out the steps you can take towards a healthier heart.

More information

The Heart Foundation Guide to eating for a healthy heart gives advice on eating for a healthy heart. Posters of the guide are available in a variety of languages, including Te Reo Māori, Hindi, Chinese, and Pasifika languages.

For more ideas on how to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, read the Heart Foundation's advice on managing your risk.

This factsheet explains how to get your cholesterol checked, and what to do about it. You can also read the page on Understanding your cholesterol results.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Food for a healthy heart

Reading food labels

Heart-healthy recipes

On the next page: Cholesterol-lowering medicines

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2018. Last updated November 2018.

See also:

Heart attack

High triglycerides

How to lose weight

Reading food labels

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Review key: HIHCH-53809